Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Monastic Life

Monty Python and the Holy Grail Monks
There was a time, years ago, that I fascinated with the monastic life--the life of a monk.  At the start of my seminary career I stumbled upon Thomas Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and fell in love with all things monastic--or at least all things Merton.  Merton, thanks to the Catholic Church's censors, painted what I thought was quite a romantic picture of what it was like to be a monk.  It caught my attention and for quite some time I immersed myself into reading about the monastic life and a lot of Merton's other books on contemplative prayer and what means to be a monk.  I even scheduled myself a retreat at the monastery where Merton lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky.  It was a pretty drab and dower sort of place--cold and damp the whole time I was there--quiet.  The monastic bug held my attention for a couple years while in seminary--I longed for the monastic life.  I wanted a life like Thomas Merton . . .

 Thomas Merton

. . . but, it was not meant to be.  First of all, I was married.  Married monks are not the standard and I do not think that the wife would want to be a nun.  Besides, there is no fraternizing allowed, though most biographers of Merton mention a relationship he had had while at Gethsemani--celibacy is the rule of thumb in monasticism.  Secondly, I wasn't Catholic--no part of me was Catholic.  I had Catholic friends growing up, but I was never a Catholic--everything but!  I owned no rosary.  Didn't know a "Hail, Mary" from a "Hell, Mary" or even what a genuflect was.  Being a Catholic was sort of a minor requirement to be a monk--and probably a good Catholic at that!  I wasn't even a good Christian (Ah, for the grace of God I go!).  And, thirdly, I did not want to work that hard.  After getting beyond the romantic side of monasticism and dealing with the reality of it all, the monastic life is much too hard.  There are the crazy hours set aside for daily prayer that last all day--the manual labor that is expected--the constant studying that is expected--the bland and meatless meals--and the silence.  It was like they expected one to live one's life like a monk!  I don't mind the praying, a little labor, or the silence, but I like my meat with my meals!  Nope, being a monk was not meant to be.

Instead I have spent a lifetime dabbling in bits and pieces of the monastic life.  I have not gone to the extreme, but I have found the parts that I incorporate into my life--the contemplative prayer, the attempt to live one's life as if it is a prayer to God, and to stop and listen to God and God's voice in my daily life.  This way I still get to have a wife and eat meat!  

This past week I have been living the monastic life.  The wife and number two son have been off to church camp since Sunday and return home tomorrow night.  Since then I have been home alone with the dogs fending for myself.  Now some have told me that I am a "bachelor" this week, but it is closer to being a monk than a bachelor.  A bachelor's life connotes the single life with no cares and responsibilities except to one's self--carefree and frivolous--or as the rock group KISS used to say it is a life of "Rock all night and party every day"! You know, like the Festrunk Brothers from the old Saturday Night Live skits with Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd--two wild and crazy guys!

 The Festrunk Brothers

There was nothing like that in my life this past week--it was more along the monastic side than anything else.  I was up each day at the break of dawn (4:30AM) to tend to the dogs and prepare myself for the commute to the big city for work by 6:00AM.  I worked my job until quitting time, commuted home, and tended the dogs.  Once I got the dogs squared away--fed and watered, I prepared my supper.  Yes, I fixed myself supper each night and it wasn't just hot dogs--even had vegetables!  One night it was grilled pork, the next it was beef fried rice, the next was steak on the grill, spaghetti another, and then today brats (okay, so they are German hot dogs, excuse me).  After each meal I cleaned up the dishes and then headed outside to do the chores of watering flowers and lawn.  This was a crucial exercise as the temperatures have been in the 90s all week and the wife's flowers symbolize a great financial investment that I wasn't going to allow to burn up in the heat!  Thus far the investment and flowers have held up quite nicely!  Once the yard work was done it was usually 9:00PM and that gave me about thirty minutes to sit down, relax, and read the paper before having to start the reparations for the next day.  It was a vicious never-ending circle!  It was a far cry from the carefree craziness of a bachelor's life--outside of having no robe or cowl to wear, my week resemble that of the monk than a Festrunk brother.

There are approximately 36 hours before the wife and number two son get back from church camp--36 hours to go and then I can loudly proclaim, "I survived!"  I know that there will be those who will be amazed that I survived--that I did not starve to death, that all my clothes matched, that the house is clean, the bed was made every day, the grass is still green, the flowers are not wilting and are actually blooming, and the dogs are still alive.  But, hey!  I still have 36 hours to screw it up and the good Lord knows I don't need 36 hours to do that.  Either way, I am looking forward to ending this monastic experiment and getting back to the somewhat normal existence I knew prior to this adventure.  This week has killed whatever residual inkling for the monastic life I might still be harboring.  What I discovered is that it was not so much the monastic life I wanted, but I wanted to be Thomas Merton . . . Brother Louie.

Oh well, I am who I am and each day I am discovering that that is good enough for me.  It is too difficult to be anything else!  Pies lesu domine, Dona eis requiem!  (Bonk!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bobblehead Phobia

Phobia: A persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

Bobblehead: A bobblehead doll, also known as a bobbing head doll, nodder, or wobbler, is a type of collectible toy. Its head is often oversized compared to its body. Instead of a solid connection, its head is connected to the body by a spring or hook in such a way that a light tap will cause the head to bobble, hence the name.

Bobblehead Phobia: A persistent, irrational fear of a bobblehead doll that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

Growing up as a kid I remember seeing them in the back windows of cars as they sped by on the road--fuzzy little dogs with their heads bobbing up and down, left and right.  These were the images of bobbleheads that I remember as a kid, but as I got to be an adult I learned that there was a whole world of bobbleheads out there in the world!  There are bobbleheads of actors, cartoon characters, historical figures, animals other than dogs, and sports stars.  There are bobbleheads even of Jesus!

When we moved to Montana we started attending the big city's rookie baseball team's games--we are on our third year now.  Besides loving baseball I also love the promotional give-a-ways that the sponsors give away at the games.  Each season the team gives away two bobbleheads of players who used to play for the team.  After I got my first one I was hooked.  There are two games I never miss each season and those are the two in which bobbleheads are the prize.    This upcoming Saturday night I will have my sixth bobblehead. Actually, I have eight bobbleheads on display right now.  My daughter's father-in-law gave me two of the bobbleheads that they sponsored when they had a business in the big city.  The other bobblehead is one that I picked up from a local yard sale.   

These little dolls are nice collectibles.  They stand about seven inches tall and have heads that are mounted to springs to make them bobble.  I have my collection on my office wall unit in the basement of the house.  Unless there is an earthquake the bobbleheads rarely bobble.  As collectibles there are people out there in the world who are willing to pay ridiculous prices to own them--especially if they are ones that they do not have.  I was surprised to learn how much the bobbleheads are worth that I have in my office.

  Jay Bruce-2009

Chris Dickerson-2009

Drew Stubbs-2010

Jason LaRue-2010

Paul Janish-2011

Aaron Boone-2003

George Brett-2002
$100 range

Ichiro Suzuki-262 Hits-2005
Bought for a quarter now worth

I have developed a nice display since moving to Montana and have a minor investment in these bobbleheads (average price for a ticket to the games was $5.00).  I really like the way that they make my office look . . . except late at night.  Late at night they begin to freak me out a little--especially when I am tired.  It is like Their eyes follow me around the room.  It feels like they are bobbling their heads at one another in some sort of a conspiracy to do something--something to me.  As soon as I turn my head they are as still as statues--it matters not how quickly I turn my head they are never bobbing.  Good muscle control I figure!  But late at night I know that they are up to something.  I think that is why the dogs won't come into the room except when I am in there.  The dogs know that something is up.

The bobbleheads and the gnomes--yes, gnomes--are teaming up and are out to get me.  I have three sports garden gnomes in my office too.  The first one I got was of my favorite baseball team--the Baltimore Orioles, thanks to my daughter.  The second one I purchased of my favorite college football team--the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  The third one was a promotional give-a-way at the big city's baseball team's game.  Though their heads do not bob, their eyes follow me around the room.  It is a conspiracy.

The Gang of Gnomes

I know that something is up--the bobbleheads and gnomes are up to something . . . something bad.  Maybe I have watched too many Chucky or Toy Story movies in which the toys come to life and do all sorts of things unbeknownest to any of us.  It is spooky!  As a kid I imagined that my toys came to life while I was sleeping in the dark, but I thought I grew out of that a long time ago . . . but, maybe I am wrong and they really do come to life when the lights go out.  Maybe the bobbleheads are just waiting for me to get the new bobblehead on Saturday (Corky Miller, by the way) so that they can have a full team--sort of Field of Dreams sort of thing.  Then I imagine the gnomes will want me to hurry up and get six more of them so that they can have a team.  The bobbleheads and gnomes will then start playing games--my office will be a mess and the dogs will be nervous wrecks.  I don't know . . . 

. . . something is up.  I can feel it.  Call it a phobia if you want, but I know that something is up.  I think Ichiro is the gang leader egg it all on.  I can't prove it but he looks suspicious as he is the only one not from the big city's team!  Whatever the case, if I disappear one day--CHECK THE BOBBLEHEADS and GNOMES--they'll know something.  In the meantime maybe I should invest in a Jesus bobblehead--surely he could keep the peace and insure my safety.  This is the one I'm saving up for now:

I think I would feel safer with a Jesus bobblehead in my collection.  In fact, I know that I would.  A Jesus bobblehead is as good as any plastic Jesus that my Catholic friends have on the dashboard of their cars.  If it works for them, it will work for me.  As the song goes:

Well, I don't care if it rains or freezes,
Long as I have my plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my car
Through all trials and tribulations,
We will travel every nation,
With my plastic Jesus I'll go far.

Yeah, that is what I will do!  I'm feeling better already!  Who says I have a bobblehead phobia?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Water--Blue Gold

"Ever wonder about those people who spend $2 apiece on those little bottles of Evian water? Try spelling Evian backward." 
(George Carlin)

Several years ago I watched one of those news shows like 20/20 in which they did a blind survey of bottled water.  They presented to the public the hypothesis that they were trying to determine which brand of bottled water was the best.  What they were actually attempting to do was to see which was more popular--bottled water or tap water.  Through a blind taste test it was surprising that the majority of people picked the tap water as the best--better than all of those expensive and fancy bottled waters.  The latest edition (August 2011) of Readers Digest reconfirms this fact in it article "Big Gulp".

I have never understood bottled water--especially here in the United States where we have the safest water in the world to drink.  Yet we Americans spend a lot of money on bottled water--a person in the United States drinks an average of 30 gallons of the stuff a year.  During the 1970s  a person might have drank a gallon a year.  Bottled water is one of the biggest advertising scams of all time--that is the only way that I can explain people spending hard earned money for something they can get out of their own taps in their homes for free.

The bottlers of water would have the consumer believe that if their product--water--is consumed that a person will be skinnier, sexier, and healthier.  I have been drinking water my whole life--lots of it--and I do not feel any skinnier, sexier, or healthier.  That is a toss of the old genetic dice, not the water I drink, and my dice rolled crap.  Mostly water has made me want to go to the bathroom a little more frequently--especially as I get older with my TB (tiny bladder).  The old saying is "ashes to ashes, dust to dust", with bottle water it is "water to water"!  We don't buy water, we rent it--think about it.  Yet those advertisers must be doing something right as worldwide the industry makes between 50 to 100 billion dollars a year with the market expanding at an annual rate of seven percent (Mother Nature Network at www.mnn.com).  Bottled water is big business and lots of money is being spent to keep it that way.

Here are a few points to consider:
  • Penny for penny--bottle water is not a good value.  Did you realize that you spend more money for an ounce of water than you do for an ounce of gasoline?  An ounce of bottled water, like Coca-Cola's Dasani, costs about five cents if you can find a 20-ounce bottle and it is nothing more than tap water that is bottled.  Gasoline, on the other hand, has to be pulled up through the ground with expensive machinery, sent to a refinery to be processed, then sent back to the local gas station to sold--all for less than four cents an ounce.  Bottled water puts Big Oil to shame!  Ever since I quit drinking bottle water I have had more money to buy gas! 
  • Bottled water is healthier than tap water--NOT!  According to Peter Gleick, author of Bottled and Sold, between 25 and 40 percent of the bottle water sold in the United States originates as tap water.  In theory, bottled water in the United States falls under the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration. In practice, about 70 percent of bottled water never crosses state lines for sale, making it exempt from FDA oversight.  On the other hand, water systems in the United States are well regulated as they fall under the Environmental Protective Agency that conducts countless safety checks to make sure that water meets certain standards for safety.  

  • Garbage--lots of it!  Bottled water produces 1.5 million tons of plastic waster each year.  On a recent commercial it was stated that the amount of bottled water we Americans drink in a year could circle the planet nine times!  That is a lot of bottles!  Good thing that we recycle right?  Wrong!  Eighty percent of the bottles of bottled water drank never makes it to the recycling bins--the bottles just get thrown away.  With its terribly slow rate of decay--practically doesn't decay--we are going to have plastic bottles around for a long, long time.  Maybe need to do what this guy did:

The bottom line on bottled water is that it is not the smartest or even the healthiest route for anyone to go--unless living in a declared area in which the water is so contaminated that only bottled water is necessary for survival.  This is not an issue for the majority of us here in the United States.  Water is water--don't waste your money on buying bottled water.  Save some bucks, save the planet.  Instead of wasting all of that money and creating more garbage do what we do at our house--we bottle our own water straight out of the tap!  We have bought reusable water bottles that we keep filled in the refrigerator or fill up from a drinking fountain or tap.  It is a fairly cheap investment that has more than paid for itself in a matter of days.

When it comes to water I will drink mine straight out of the tap . . . it saves money and the planet. Don't be naive when it comes to water.  Think about what Garrison Keillor says:

"I am sorry, Evian and San Pellegrino and Dasani and all the other bottled waters out there—Aqua Velva, Wells Fargo, Muddy Waters, Joan Rivers, Jerry Springer, whatever—but the current campaign against paying good money for bottled water when tap water is perfectly good (and very likely purer) is so sensible on the face of it that I am now done with you.
Fini. Kaput. Ausgeschlossen. No more designer water. Water is water. If you want lemon flavoring, add a slice of lemon. You want bubbles, stick a straw in it and blow.
My father, a true conservative, would have smiled on this. All his life he resisted the attempts of big corporations to gouge him by selling him stuff he didn’t need and so he was not a consumer of high-priced water, anymore than he would’ve purchased bottles of French air or Italian soil.

No, San Pellegrino and Perrier got rich off the pretensions of liberal wastrels like moi who thought it set us apart from the unlettered masses. We ordered it in restaurants for the same reason we read books we don’t like and go to operas we don’t understand - we say to the waiter, "Perrier,” to give a continental touch to our macaroni and cheese.
 Enough. Man is capable of reform once presented with the facts, and the fact is that bottling water and shipping it is a big waste of fuel, so stop already. The water that comes to your house through a pipe is good enough, and maybe better."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Call Me Paul Bunyon

With the completion of the "evening recreational area"--complete with a fire pit--one of the first things I realized that it needed to be successful was wood.  You have to have wood in order to have a fire in the pit.  Our neighbors to the north of us donated the wood for the first two fires, but that wood quickly burned in the first two fires we had this week.  We had gotten down to the nitty gritty with only a few pieces left which put some urgency into the need for wood.  I really did not want to bother my neighbors for more wood, nor did I want to do as my big city children would do and buy some wood at the local super duper grocery store.  Neither would the wife allow me to torch any of the furniture we have around the house that no one ever sits on.  The solution was just down the road in the local national forest--there is tons and tons of wood there!  Plus it is in my price range--free!  So that is what I did this morning I set off to get myself some wood for the evening recreational area's fire pit.

Now a person needs to understand this--I live in Montana.  In Montana, with a little muscle and effort, no one should ever have to pay for wood to burn in fireplaces, fire pits, or wood stoves.  The national forest is good about letting folks get as much fire wood as they need as long as they use the designated areas.  It is a win-win situation for everyone--the national forest gets rid of trees it doesn't want, and people get some great firewood.  Thus it was that I set out this morning at 6:00AM with a wood saw, camera, my tunes, and a bottle of water.  The early start time was to do a little critter creeping in hopes of catching some of Bullwinkle's relatives hanging out in the woods--thus the camera.  That was kind of a futile effort as the only critters I saw were deer, marmots, and squirrels.  But into the woods I went . . . a man on a mission . . . watch out Paul Bunyon!

One of the prevalent trees that grow in the national forest in our area is the Lodge Pole Pine.  The tree got its name from the fact that these trees grow tall and straight--perfect for the sort of lodging (tee pees)that the American Indians used in our area.  Several years ago a fire swept through the area and torched a lot of the trees.  As they fall they are available for firewood.  As you can see in the picture above it is a regular cornucopia of firewood for the hauling.  I found an area that quite a few previous wood hunters had used and decided to start there.

With great excitement and gusto I jumped out of the pick-up, grabbed a fallen tree, and began the fine art of sawing it into a usable size for the fire pit--about 12 to 16 inches in length.  The goal was to fill the bed of the pick-up with ready-to-use firewood.  After 15 minutes and maybe eight to ten pieces sawed I had exhausted myself and basically thrown a grain of sand in the bed of the pick-up towards the goal of filling it up.  Add to that the attack of the killer mosquitoes who had to have sucked at least a pint of blood out of me and this Paul Bunyon-thingy was going nowhere fast.  At this rate I figured I'd be out in the woods, drained of blood, and the pick-up no closer to being filled even after several hours.  Buying wood from the local super-duper market was beginning to look good--I don't know if that was because of the lack of blood or because I was tired of sawing.  There had to be a better way!

In a stupor I stood there staring at all that wood around me and then I looked at the saw in my hand--this was futility at its best.  It was like carving a tooth pick out of a two-by-four!  Then I looked closer at what was around me--I quit focusing on the big picture--there was firewood everywhere for the taking.  All I had to do was bend over and pick it up!  Everywhere that someone had fallen a tree to cut up into smaller firewood were the remains of the wood that was deemed unsuitable by their harvesters.  There will scraps of firewood--from six to ten inches in length--laying everywhere.  All I had to do was to do was a little of that ancient art of gleaning--picking up the leftovers!  Within an hour I had the bed of the pick-up filled!  I figure I cheated the mosquitoes out of a couple of pints using this method.  It sure saved a lot of wear and tear on my body--especially my arms, and I didn't need to stop at the local hospital for a transfusion.

After a quick stop in Red Lodge to purchase tickets to a concert at the Regis Cafe on August 5th and a re-stocking of beverages for the evening recreational area, I was home by 10:30AM.  The firewood was unloaded by the evening recreational area, the truck bed cleaned out, and the itching had stopped from the millions of mosquito bites--it was a good morning!  Of course, it rained in the afternoon and soaked all the wood, I didn't see a moose, and I still have yet to find that mythical creature of Montana . . .

Until the next adventure I keep my eyes peeled for the elusive Beer!  In the meantime, Paul Bunyon's reputation and legend are safe!  Don't call me Paul Bunyon, just call me Mini Paul!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Laugh or Cry--the Weekly News

Here is this week's edition of the news from around the world . . . if you didn't laugh you'd  have to cry.

They say that everything in Texas is bigger!  Apparently that was the case for Janet Johnson of Longview, Texas as she gave birth (by Cesarean Section) to a 16 pound, two-foot long baby, believed to be the biggest baby every born in the state.  That's a BIG baby!  The picture above is four days after delivery.  The kid has more hair than I do--it just ain't fair!  I guess it is one more thing for Texas to brag about--more hot wind!

In Oak Park, Michigan, the problem wasn't super babies, but a garden.  It seems that property owners are not free to grown anything they want in their yards--in particular, their front yards.  Julie Bass was charged with a crime for growing vegetables in her own front yard.  Ms. Bass's garden was tidy and well-kept, but the city through city planner Kevin Rulkowski stated that vegetables are "not what we want to see in a front yard."  The city code requires "suitable" vegetation which is defined as "a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers."  I guess I should be thankful that I don't live in Oak Park, Michigan, because most of what I have growing in my front yard doesn't qualify as a "nice grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers."  Nope, the weeds have taken over and if it weren't for them I'd have no yard at all.  Besides, I thought property owners had some rights--the lady was growing her own food!

The reality stars of the TV show Sisters Wives have filed a legal challenge against Utah's anti-bigamy law.Utah's law states that it is a criminal offense to marry or live with more than one person as husband and wive.  Kody Brown, the show's star, is technically married to just one woman with the other three women being his "spiritual wives."  The challenge is over the right of individuals to choose their private relations.  The Browns argue that they should be allowed to continue with their arrangement--which includes 16 children--so long as they do not violate child abuse or incest laws.  They filed their legal challenge from Nevada as they are under investigation in Utah.  I have a feeling that the whole challenge will be thrown out of court on mental incompetency of the challengers.  The wife and I both agree that it is hard enough to relate to one spouse and be civil--a person would have to be crazy to have four spouses!  But, hey--I like the way that he attempts to keep it in the theological realm by calling the three his "spiritual wives."  Probably does a lot of praying.

It seems that President Obama doesn't quite understand the idea behind Twitter.  During President Obama's recent "Twitter town hall" last week, questions sent on the social-networking site were 140 characters or less--as is the rule for Twitter.  The president's oral responses were, on average, 2099 characters long--the equivalent of 15 Twitter messages.  What did people expect?  Even though the guy is the President of the United States, he is still a politician--wordiness is a part of the game!  I don't know which is sadder--the fact that no politician, including the President of the United States, can answer the question in 140 characters or less; or, that some fool actually counted the number of characters that the President answered with--and got paid handsomely!  Since I can't count that high (only got ten toes and fingers) I imagine the guy's job is safe for now.

If you don't recognize the picture above you might be part of the 30-some percent of those households in the United States that have no land line telephone--up from 14 percent in 2008.  Instead those 30-some percent are more likely to rely upon cell phones than land line telephones.  Males, Hispanics, and the poor are more likely to rely only on cell phones.  In the Keener household we have both--cell phones and land line phones--and I personally don't care for either one.  As an introvert I see any type of phone as an intrusion into my little world.  I wonder what percentage of the United States population feel the same way?

If you didn't recognize the picture of the telephone then you might not recognize the picture above.  It is cursive handwriting.  In the state of Indiana state officials have stopped the requirement of having schools teach third graders the art of cursive handwriting.  Instead, students will be encouraged to focus on keyboard skills, on the principle that almost all writing today is done on computers and cell phones.  It is estimated that in a few decades no one who grew up in Indiana will be able to write his or her name.  Imagine the problems this will create--who will sign legal documents like loan papers, marriage licenses, etc.?  Will people in Indiana need to hire an out-of-stater or immigrant to do it for them?  I guess one potential plus to this is that it could create a whole new job market for professional cursive writers.  Again, I would lose out--my signature has grown progressively worse as I use the computer more and more to do all of my writing--it is on the same scale as a doctor or lawyer.

Seems that farming is now the becoming the quickest way towards becoming a millionaire.  Recent figures state that farm income was up 27 percent last year and is expected to rise another 20 percent this year, despite the sluggish growth of the economy in general.  With more efficient growing techniques and increasing global demand for food there has been created a quiet boom in U.S. farm country.  This is fueling predictions that farming will be a better path to riches than banking for the next generation.  I imagine the requirements and tuition for ag schools will soon inflate with the growing demand for farmers.  Never in a million years would one thought that farming would out earn the local banker!  I think that the farmers and ranchers around Montana would disagree.

The weekly news . . . you either have to laugh or cry!  I think I will laugh.  As I laugh I think I will plant a garden in my front yard and start raking in all those millions!  I wonder if the town has any regulations about what is and is not acceptable for a front yard?  Who am I kidding . . . this is Montana!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Typically when the wife and I are on vacation we purchase souvenirs for ourselves and the rest of the family.  Even as young adults our children still want to know what we bought them from our vacation--the answer is t-shirts.  As for the wife and I, well, we did not do too much shopping for souvenirs on this trip.  Neither one of needed more t-shirts and the stuff that the wife wanted would not fit into our suitcases--a semi-truck, maybe, but not a suitcase.  Outside of two baseballs I got at the two games I attended in Hagerstown (Suns0 and Asheville (Tourists) all I got were shingles.  Not the ones pictured above, but the medical kind.

A couple of days before we returned to Montana I had an itchy spot on my back.  Being an itchy spot I did what comes naturally--I scratched it.  I scratched it over and over again thinking that the little spot on my back was nothing more than some sort of exotic bug bite that would eventually disappear.  A couple of days later another itchy spot appeared near the first one--persistent bugs, I thought.  Because it itched I scratched.  Guess what?  They are still there on my back eight days later.  In my mind I was thinking that those were some industrial strength mosquitoes!

Dr. Anthony Komaroff of Havard Medical School describes shingles as such: "Shingles, also called "zoster," is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Usually, this virus enters our bodies in childhood, when it is the cause of chickenpox. Then the virus stays inside our bodies for the rest of our lives. (Our immune system cannot kill it, so it just tries to keep it quiet.) The virus lives inside nerves that lead to our skin. In most of us, it remains "asleep" inside the nerves, causing no problems. But sometimes, it "wakes up" and begins making copies of itself, and that's when it can cause trouble.
When the virus wakes up, it can cause pain, itching, or a strange unpleasant sensation in a patch of skin. A few days later, that patch of skin starts to develop a rash. The skin turns red. Little blisters form. That's the condition called shingles or zoster. The rash usually lasts just a few days, but sometimes the pain and discomfort can persist."

Varicella-zoster virus!  Just the sort of souvenir one wants to return from vacation with!  I can picture myself whipping my shirt up and flashing my back to show all my friends and co-workers my "souvenir" from my vacation.  There are laws about indecent exposure and that would be close.

Thankfully (and luckily) I do not have a terrible case of the dreaded shingles all over my body as some people can get.  Basically I have four little spots--kind of like mosquito bites--with red shadows that surround them.  They still itch a little (I have disciplined myself not to scratch), they hurt every so often, and always feel funny brushing up against my clothing.  At times it is uncomfortable especially with the warm temperatures we have been experiencing here in Montana.  I have learned I am not contagious--unless you have never had Chicken Pox.  If you have never had Chicken Pox you might want to avoid me for a little while.  For the most part it is just an uncomfortable reminder of the vacation that I will have for a couple of more weeks--plus it was free!  Cheaper than a t-shirt, but I would not recommend it as a souvenir.

Now, you have been forewarned!  Do not ask me what I brought back from my recent vacation because you might not like what you see--shingles!  We are not talking about roofing material here!  But, if you insist . . .
. . . oh no!  Indecent exposure!  What a souvenir!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vacations are Great, but There is No Place Like Home (Part Three)

Here in Montana the wife and I like to do what we call "critter creeping"--basically it is driving around looking for animals in the area.  Our Lancaster part of the vacation was an exercise in what my sister termed "Amish creeping"!  Our early morning trip took us up through Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (where my brother and his wife now live in the house my parents left to him), through Gettysburg, and then on into Amish country around Lancaster. Since the wife and my sister had been up to this area before they sort of had an idea of what they were doing to avoid the most popular routes tourists use. We went on a whole bunch of side roads that gave us lots of opportunities to see the Annabaptists at work and play.

It is this area that there is much to see and do if one enjoys looking at the folk art of the Plain People and English (non-Amish and Mennonites) that inhabit the area--especially if one loves quilts as there people are world renown for their quilts.  Our first stop was in a small town in which the wife and sister decided to do a little quilt shopping.  Of course this left me with nothing to do but to take pictures and encounter my first scooter riding Amish . . . 

 Amish Quilt--Star Pattern

Young Amish man on a popular Amish mode of transportation--the scooter

After saving thousands of dollars by not buying any quilts we were out to the for a little "creeping".  The area was a luscious green, corn was a good seven to eight foot tall, the tobacco was healthy, and the farmers were out haying the fields.  It was neat to watch the farmer swath the fields with horse drawn mowers.

 The lush farmland of the Amish

 Mowing hay

 More mowing

Hoeing the tobacco 

The goal of driving on the back roads was to be in the "presence" of the Amish and Mennonites as they went about their daily lives, and it was also to take a less traveled route to Intercourse--Amish Mecca.  There was a lot to see before we got to Intercourse . . . 

 Some of the local traffic

 Mascot Roller Mill--in operation since 1865 until 1977 by the Amish

 A couple of young Amish girls playing by the Mascot Roller Mill

 Amish family driving by the mill

 Another Amish family out riding

 The Meyer Homestead--a Amish farmstead since 1759 by the same family

 Young Amish girl with the family pets

A little Amish laundry

Eventually we made it to Intercourse and its many shops and tourist attractions.  Now this is a great spot to do a little "creeping" as the Amish zip through the town, work the shops, and generally live life.  The folk art was spectacular . . . and the Amish people, well, see for yourself . . . 

 How the community of Intercourse got its name

 A little of the folk art

 An older Amish couple

 Sharing the roads with the "English"

 More folk art

 A wary look towards the tourists

 An elderly couple heading down the road


 The Amish use a lot of trotters for their teams

 The excitement of being in town

 Brother and sister strolling through town

 A popular mode of transportation especially among the young Amish

 An "Amish" moose

 Two generations out for a ride

 Moving equipment back to the farm

 An angel

Leaving Intercourse

From Intercourse we made our way through more countryside looking for shops and the Amish.  Along the way we saw another mill and several horses enjoying the day.  Eventually we came upon a little town where there was a winery--non-Amish run, but English run.  Despite that we were assured that the Amish like their wine.  Again, excellent photo opportunities . . . 

 A horse enjoying an afternoon snack

 Shoemaker Mill

 Checking out the local traffic

 Scooting down the road

 No matter what culture a child stuck between a rock and a hard place

 Strasburg Winery--open ten weeks

 A young Amish boy

 Brothers at play

The wine was nice--even had corks in the bottles--must be good

From Strasburg we headed back to Hagerstown, but not without a quick stop in Gettysburg for supper and some time with my youngest brother and his wife at the Appalachian Brewing Company.  This was actually my second visit to a Appalachian Brewing Company site as I visited one once before on a training trip to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania several years ago.  Despite a familiarity to the brewery it was still good food, brew, and company.  Once we were done we took a cruise around the Gettysburg battleground before heading home.

Good food, wonderful beer, and great family at the ABC of Gettysburg

A nice cold brew after a long, hot day "Amish creeping"

It was a Jolly Scot Scottish Ale (if you were wondering)

 The errieness of the battlefield at dusk

Across these fields a battle was waged by the North and South 

 It was a bloody battle that saw both sides winning and losing

 Now the battle field only echoes of the violence of the past

 A symbol for the call for unity and peace

 A place so beautiful and yet a monument to the violence humanity can commit 

 A reminder

The community of Gettysburg at dusk

From Gettysburg we eventually made it home after a twenty mile detour--in the dark on roads none of us knew anything about--thanks to an accident.  The final day of our vacation was a day of respite and rest as we sat around, talked, and had supper with my other brother.  It was a treat to be able to spend time visiting new places, but the best treat was having time with family.  The wife and I flew out of Dulles International Airport at 6:30AM--made a quick run through the Minneapolis Airport to catch our connection to Montana--and we were home by 10:15AM.  It was a whirlwind trip symbolic of our whole vacation, and a tiredness of a job well done.  As fun as it was, it was great to be home and greeted by Maddie and her Boxer dance.  There is no place like home.